Can I Just Say…?

This week psychologists, neuroscientists and statisticians have been again prompted to reassess our methods by a widely-circulated preprint (pdf) accusing some in the field of acting like “methodological terrorists”. Thankfully, the initial urge to identify with one or other “side” (and to hit back at “opponents”) has largely given way to more thoughtful, nuanced and long overdue discussions about how research should be conducted. I am not arguing for or against one of the “sides” in this debate, but I am just sharing my perspective.

Scientists have learned that we need to continually question our beliefs about the natural world, and test them against the evidence. As Feynman put it: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” We have to question our beliefs. This applies to our beliefs about the scientific method as well as to our beliefs about the natural world. It applies to ourselves as well as the other people who we think are wrong.

Continue reading “Can I Just Say…?”

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Science v Philosophy

Any friendly philosophers or scientists fancy getting together for a discussion on G+ Hangouts in the next few days?

UPDATE: The Hangout is planned for 21/2/2013 1730 GMT. Comment here or tweet @tom_hartley for an invitation. You will need to provide your preferred gmail address (but you should do this privately, e.g., by twitter DM or by adding me on G+).

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Hidden Gems II: Reason is Greatly Overrated

The next gem concerns another cognitive bias of great significance to scientists and especially philosophers.

People overestimate their ability to form coherent explanations. This paper investigates the overconfidence through 12 experiments.

The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth (Rozenblit & Keil, 2002, Cognitive Science)

The upshot of this phenomenon is that we should be extremely cautious of verbal explanations which, in their nature, tend to obscure explanatory gaps, hidden assumptions, false premises and reasoning errors.

Read on for a hubristic rant about the implications for Philosophy and Science…

Continue reading “Hidden Gems II: Reason is Greatly Overrated”

How to change other people’s minds.

Scientists are involved in finding out how nature works by looking at and generating new evidence. The idea is to build up a set of well-founded, testable beliefs about the natural world. This system seems to work pretty well – our everyday existence, quality of life and indeed lifespan has benefitted hugely from scientific advances and the technologies which flow from them from: antibiotics, brain scans, the internet, television, transport, contraception. It’s easy to think of less positive examples, like nuclear weapons, but none of this stuff would work unless the underlying scientific beliefs had some truth in them. Continue reading “How to change other people’s minds.”